With debates about religion, the existence of God, atheism and suffering filling the atmosphere, Rev Stephen Brooks argues that it’s time for Christians to learn to be apologists of the Gospel
In an election year, we are bracing ourselves for the numerous political debates and arguments about party manifestos; increasingly, we are also invited to participate in religious conversations by other religious groups. Unlike politicians, who are prepared to give a considered response, sadly the majority of Christians are not so prepared to defend what they believe.
Stephen Fry, one of the UK’s cleverest TV presenters, recently announced he does not believe in God, and generated a major debate in the process. To my surprise, the comedian and actor Russell Brand made an articulate argument in defence in the belief of God; theologians call this Apologetics. The word ‘apologetics’ comes from the Greek word `apologia`, found in 1 Peter 3:15 (“…always be ready to give a defence [apologia] to everyone who asks you…”). Apologia is a legal term that simply means ‘defence’. Apologetics is the branch of Christian theology that is concerned with making a defence, or case, for the truth-claims of the Christian faith.
Many of today’s youth were raised without being taught the Bible, so they don’t understand or know the love and grace of God through Jesus Christ. Judges 2:10 speaks of such a time when “another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done.” This is increasingly the situation today, and the reason why we urgently need to develop systematic teaching and reasonable responses to the questions that inevitably arise from a generation unfamiliar with the Bible.
In my experience, younger generations are experiencing a revival of interest in apologetics and discussing spirituality. Despite the general lack of knowledge of the Bible, and despite the way Christians and the Bible are being portrayed, there is so much openness for discussion. Some of the most common questions I have been asked are:
- What evidence do you have that God exists?
- Why would a good God allow evil to exist?
- Why does God allow children to suffer?
- How can a loving God send people to hell?
- Do all religions ultimately point to the same God?
- Does the Bible support slavery?
- Why don’t miracles happen as frequently today as they did in the Bible?
- How can we know that the Bible is a reliable record of the original writings?
Sadly, there are too many examples of pastors treating people with genuine questions as though they were doing something wrong by even thinking of the question. In contrast, the people of the city of Berea (Acts 17) were seen as “noble”, because they heard teaching but then looked deeper and asked questions. Churches must teach apologetics to new generations by:
- teaching apologetics when the whole congregation is gathered, as well as in smaller
groups, where questions can be posed.
- creating a safe culture, where asking questions is seen as a good thing. Young people are often suspicious of churches giving one-way teaching and creating a feeling that it’s a bad thing to ask questions.
- avoiding a simple, take-it-or-leave-it, case-closed approach to difficult questions, as it will quickly lose people’s trust. Don’t offer simple answers if there are no simple answers. It isn’t enough to quote a verse or two to prove a point.
We are all familiar with the Apostle Peter’s challenge to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Many are less familiar with his next sentence: “…but do this with gentleness and respect.” For Peter, it is obvious that the content and the relational tone of Christian apologetic witness are both important. Our reasons are important, but so is our respectful attitude.
Apologetics is not “apologising or attacking”. The aim of apologetics is to remove obstacles that have been placed between someone’s understanding of God, by offering arguments, giving empirical evidence and living a Christlike life.
For further confirmation of this biblical combination, we need only consider the Apostle Paul’s advice to Timothy: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). Paul, the great apologist, encourages us not to practise loud-mouthed apologetics, just trying to win an argument but, instead, grace-filled persuasion, because people, and not just ideas, matter. I would encourage every Christian to equip themselves in apologetics, and visit helpful websites like www.GotQuestions.org.
Our opponents should be crystal-clear on what we believe, and why we are convinced it is true. At the same time, however, how we relate in conversation also matters. The great challenge before us, as Christian apologists, is to speak and live in ways that combine uncompromising faithfulness to revealed truth with a grace-filled spirit of loving service. This is the Christlike way and, besides that, it is the way that works best in the end.
Let us remember some people are only one answer away from knowing Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour.
You can contact Rev Brooks at email@example.com or phone 07940 237959.